Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Michelin Guide to a Story Idea

I am absolutely thrilled that over the last few months my cross genre story (mystery, history, romance and ghosts!) , GATHER THE BONES,  has received a number of award nominations:  Australian Romance Readers Association, CRW Award of Excellence, GDRW Booksellers Best Award and the 2012 Rone Award.  It may not be the eventual winner but for a story that does not sit in any one genre, it is a pleasing recognition that cross genre stories can interest readers.

Writers are often asked where they get their idea for a story.  Inspiration can strike in the most unexpected ways and sometimes there is no one trigger point for a story.


An acclaimed cross genre story

The inspiration for GATHER THE BONES, which is set in 1923, came from a number of different sources but it is, perhaps, a little brown book--“Ypres and the Battle for Ypres 1914-1918, An illustrated history and guide” published by Michelin--  published in 1920 that I found at the back of my parents bookshelves that sowed the seeds of my hero, Paul Morrow’s, war.

 It seems extraordinary that less than two years after the end of the war there was already a tourist industry around the battlefields, but the clue comes from a little insert on the town of Ypres which describes it as the “Centre for English, French and American Pilgrims”. In this little leaflet are advertisements for “Touring Cars” (wreaths by arrangement “placed on graves and photographed”), Hotels bearing the names “The Splendid” and “Hotel Britannique”. A good cup of tea in three minutes can be obtained from the Patisserie and Tea Rooms of Mme Ve Vandaele on the Grand Place.


The spark of inspiration

We are informed that during the Great War, Ypres was bombarded continuously for four years and 250,000 British fell defending the city. “Today Ypres is being quickly reconstructed,out of 5,000 Houses destroyed, 3,000 will have been rebuild by the end of 1923; thanks to the tenacity of the Population and financial help from the Belgium Government”

“A number of quite up to date Hotels, providing every comfort:  Central Heating, Electricity, Baths etc are already in full swing. ..The country around is agricultural, with villages and farms being rebuilt once more...Every convenience and comfort for Pilgrims and Tourists is to be had in Ypres...”


Ypres: a theatre of great suffering during WWII


So in our imaginary world we have hired our touring car (with a British Driver), fortified ourself with a three minute cup of tea and off we go. The most extraordinary thing about this little book are the illustrations:  Before and After shots of little towns, chateau, woods and churches. Our touring car is pictured driving down a road lined by the broken stumps of trees.

My husband and I visited modern Ypres in 2005. Even ninety years after the last gun was silenced, the bodies of the missing were being discovered and a reinternment was occurring while we were there.  I tried to imagine what it was like for the families of those young men who had no graveside to mourn and slowly the idea for Gather the Bones took shape.


Ypres still draws many pilgrims


In that non descript little book I had the images of the battlefields, the trenches, the concrete machine gun posts but more importantly I had the pilgrimage.  Evelyn Morrow, Charlie’s mother, has to see where her son died, to really believe he is dead.  It was the Evelyns who bought the 1920 Michelin Guide, booked the Hotel Splendid, bought their wreath and in their hired touring car, laid their ghosts to rest.


To find out more about Alison and her books, visit her website, www.alisonstuart.com and to read an excerpt from GATHER THE BONES, click HERE.



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